Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Better?

I swear my horse has a calendar hidden somewhere with show dates.

I finally got to ride after the SI injections.  First impressions?  Nice!  Canter was three beats even when I had him on a contact.  He was perfectly happy to stretch over his topline in the canter.  Simple changes felt good.  The clarity did fade as the ride went on, but if he's been struggling with this for awhile, it's going to take some more repair work to get him straightened out.  I'm taking it as a good sign that he was willing to canter in both directions with no resistance while on a contact.  Light years better than before, even if it's not perfect.

And then, while stretching him out in the trot, I heard a clunk.  I had bell boots on but apparently pony's got mad skills.  I didn't see a shoe on the ground and with his bell boots I thought he had both fronts but if he was forging that hard, he must be tired already.  25 minutes of work but the first collected request I've made in weeks and after five days off.  Okay, he's tired and I need to stop, I hopped off.

Wait, you had four shoes when I walked into the indoor.  I know you did.


It took some hunting to find the shoe but sure enough, when I heard that clunk, he'd ripped his left front off.  A frantic text to the farrier got me a 9am appointment.  Papi went right back in the stall he'd just managed to escape.  I still have hope that I'll get to show on Sunday and I don't need to risk a stone bruise.  He did a number on his tootsie (as he does).

At least I got to try out the new systems before he did that.


I'll make the call on the show on Friday.  By then Theo should be used to his new normal and I'll know what kind of canter I'll have.  And whether or not he's going to be fit enough after all of his little breaks in July and early August.  

Monday, August 19, 2019

New bridle!

Everyone knows I hate my current western bridle.  The leather is cheap and poorly dyed, the stitching was already popped on the browband when it arrived, and it's just ugly.  But when riding western, draft sized tack is not exactly easy to come by.  Yes, I'm a tack snob, but the fit and leather was just hard to live with.  Why have such a pretty saddle and such a meh bridle?

Ugh, why is it so awful???

Enter Buckaroo Leather and their custom bridles.  After ordering my custom chinks I decided to email John with my bridle wish list.  He replied with a seriously reasonable price tag and I took the plunge on a custom western bridle.  After five weeks, it arrived!

There are no words for the sounds I made when I opened the box and pulled this beauty out.

I really need to replace my kitchen floor

The leather is so nice!  I expect zero break in.  The conchos match my chinks and the wild rose tooling looks fantastic with my floral tooled saddle.  Also note the lovely rawhide detail on the browband.

Love, love, love this bridle

I decided on loop reins since I keep dropping my split reins at awkward moments, like after the judge has rung the bell for me to start my test.  Theo has learned to turn his head and let mom grab the dropped rein but loop reins still seemed a wise choice.  I got a 10' loop rolled rein that was designed specifically for cowboy dressage.  The leather quality is wonderful and the buckles match my bridle.  I love the way they feel in my hands.  Hubby was impressed with these since it's apparently a lot of work to get leather burnished and finished like this.

Cameo appearance by my turtle tattoo and my kitchen wall that is under construction

Theo's got a big head so this vintage style bridle will suit him very well.  I can't wait to show it off!  A pity I missed all of the second half of the western dressage season with my health issues, but I should have one more schooling show this year.  I also have 2020 and our Level 3 debut to look forward to.

Chap leather lining

Can't recommend John at Buckaroo Leather enough.  Communication is great and it really is whatever you want., sky is the limit! For the cost of my PS of Sweden headstall, I got a bridle made to Theo's measurements, a set of reins, and a curb strap.  It's all hand tooled and the bridle is lined in chap leather.  The leather quality is wonderful and I expect it will serve me for many years.  No, it's not the crazy padded anatomical beast that is my PS of Sweden headstall (which I still love and would totally buy again), but it is a high quality, beautiful bridle I will be proud to take on the road.

I've already got the hackamore set I want all picked out, just need to wait for all this moving nonsense to be done so I know what my budget looks like.  If I'm going to be the weirdo western rider in a barn, I will be a very fashionable weirdo.  I finally found someone to buy my spare western saddle off of me AND sold some spare tack at the consignment shop so I have space for some new gear.

Does this make me a tack ho?

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Landing softly

I had my tour at the potential new place.  I dislike pressure so I had my friend show me around so I didn't feel like I had to play nice with my questions.  This plan backfired spectacularly when it turned out everyone knew my horse already.  I actually rode with the current barn manager for a short time.  Her mare was in the ring when Theo had his conniption during the hunter under saddle class and decided the other horses needed to die.  Thank goodness we got to ride together after that and I could apologize and laugh about it.

At least he's pretty

A former instructor from my current barn was visiting with her four year old for a session with the resident trainer so we got to catch up.  And the resident trainer was coaching an opposing team while I was helping coach a college team way back in my h/j days.  Small world, huh?

The informal tour worked well for me getting a look at the culture.  No one knew why I was there so they assumed I was visiting my friend.  I went into the indoor to observe what was going on in there while my friend rode  The resident trainer was riding so I got to watch her for a bit and casually chat with her clients.  Pretty standard h/j fare, nothing that bothered me.  I chatted with her a bit at the end and felt like I'd enjoy doing some jump lessons with her.  She certainly wouldn't do us any harm and sounded genuinely excited to help my short striding pony make the distances if I wanted to try the eq ring.

Aside from being the opposite of anonymous for my tour, I liked what I saw.  It's a new facility built in 2016.  14 stalls, indoor, lots of turn out options.  Heated tackroom with little lockers but the hay loft is a free for all to store trunks and saddles.  Outdoor ring is currently under construction and most guess it will exist in spring 2020.  No real trails but it's a big enough property that you can hack around the paddocks and the road is very quiet (dead end) so you can hack down that as well.  My friend says she rides in the turnouts when she doesn't feel like riding in the indoor, they're bigger than a large dressage arena and just enough terrain to be interesting.  Almost entirely adult riders which was a bit of a shock.  No school horses, no up down riders.

So the pros:

1.  New construction so everything is in really good shape
2.  BIG individual grass turn outs (almost the size of his existing field) for everyone that can be on grass
3.  Big, airy stalls with fans, hoping to snag a 12x14 but the smallest is 12x12
4.  Fluffy, well maintained footing in the indoor
5.  Active show barn
6.  Very clean, like the tack room smelled like clean leather and I had forgotten how much I love that smell
7.  Can bring in specialists for dressage
8.  No small children or clueless parents under foot
9.  Space upstairs for all my extra gear, like saddles
10.  WASH RACKS
11.  On property owner and barn manager, both of which have horses in the barn.  So does the resident trainer.

The cons:

1.  Turnout from 7:30 to 4, so about 8 hours in turn out as opposed to 24
2.  Smaller turnout for inclement weather (paddock sized)
3.  No outdoor or trails to coax us outside
4.  Still under construction so some things aren't done, like no running water in the bathroom
5.  Required weekly lessons with resident h/j trainer
6.  Quiet, I suspect I'll feel a bit lost and lonely while I adapt since I'm used to the activity of a school barn
7.  Only DQ in the barn.  By a mile.  Also only western saddle in the barn.
8.  Resident trainer so if we start butting heads, I'll be in a situation
9. More money

I'm not thinking that any of the cons are complete deal breakers for me.  A big airy stall with extra hay at night check might help Theo learn to cope.  Big turn out with neighbors should also help.  The footing was lovely and everything was very clean.  All of the adults were friendly and welcoming, I was a h/j rider for long enough that I will totally blend in.  Most of the time.

I gave my notice at the current place today so that's also motivating. Can't be too picky when you're going to be homeless soon. Its heartbreaking and terrifying but it's time to move on.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Keep on keepin' on

The barn hunt is on.  I really hate moving so I'm grumpy about the whole thing but I have hope that I'll land somewhere with more of a performance focus where I won't be such a squeaky wheel.  Where my fussing over footing is normal and not met with blank stares and 'what do you mean it's wavy?'.  I have a lead and, most importantly, a dear friend is already there.  It's not 24/7 turn out so there will be a very steep learning curve but I'm discovering that 24/7 turn out doesn't usually go with things like indoor arenas and full service board.  I want the show horse level of care and that seems to come with a stall.

Because he's a damn show horse

The place with the stalls that have run out paddocks is full and doesn't even have a waiting list.  I'll admit, I cried a bit.

But 7:30am to 4pm  turn out isn't bad.  I ride after 4pm so that's another couple hours out of the stall.  And if he can acclimate, away horse shows will be much easier!  I guess we're going to find out.  It's a h/j focused barn but I'm completely happy to take a jumping lesson once a week.  Theo would be thrilled to have more jumping time.  They also allow outside experts so Trainer Z could come out to visit.  That works for me.

See, we own a jump saddle and everything!

In the meantime, the vet came out for his lameness exam.  I love a lameness exam that includes 'I know he's not lame, but . . . '.  My poor vet's assistant was perplexed.  He trotted and cantered on the lunge in a (lazy) totally normal manner.  With my vet's clientele, this probably looked really weird.  My vet said that he's still guarding the pelvis though the hind end looks much better after the hocks and stifles were done.  No sign of an issue up front, down low, or anywhere else.  Nothing soft tissue, either.  Let's be honest, there was barely a sign of an issue at all.  If he wasn't a mid-level dressage horse (and a super sensitive princess), I probably wouldn't know anything was wrong.

We went ahead with the SI injection since that was the plan before and the most obvious step with him guarding that kind of movement.  I was relieved to hear that the vet didn't see anything outside of the pelvis stuff already identified.  Theo is now taking yet another five days off from work.  This does not bode well for my show at the end of the month but it's the logical next step.  And while he's on hand walk only, I'll be out looking at facilities. 

I want no part in the rumors and drama at the barn.  I want to step away quietly and focus on giving Theo the best care possible.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

When trust is lost

I'm prone to overreacting so I tend to assume that I'm overreacting.  So an outside opinion is requested.

A beloved (like seriously, fan club because he is a damn unicorn, I've been cuddling and sneaking treats to this horse for years) school horse gets kicked in the field.  He's sore, fluid on the knee, but fine.  He spends a couple days inside and then gets the green light to go outside.  He celebrates his freedom by going for a gallop and having a fall.  Several witnesses to the fall and they see him go down hard on his knee.  He is immediately hopping lame.  He gets cold hosing, a tab of bute, and into a stall.  Within a couple hours, he is taking no weight on that leg and is not willing to move four steps to reach the water bucket in his stall.

Should you call the vet?

I showed up at the barn a couple hours after the fall, was told the story, and checked out the horse.  I said yes, absolutely, call the vet right now.  Front leg taking no weight after a bad fall?  That's not even a question.  I didn't suspect fracture as there was only a little swelling right below the knee but he reacted to palpation and kept trying to get even the teeniest bit of weight off.  With bute already on board.  I had only seen two horses in my life that lame before this one and . . . it wasn't good.

I talked to Trainer A and she chose to not call the vet since he was on vacation and they would need to call the back up vet.  I have to assume economics since we've used the back up vet in the past for Theo and he's quite good.  They waited from Friday morning till Monday morning when the regular vet was back.  By Monday morning, it was even worse.  The leg suddenly swelled up and the vet had to rush out.

Diagnosis:  Fracture that 'completed' on Monday.  The horse was euthanized.  I found out on Tuesday when I went to his stall and found it empty.  He wasn't outside, he wasn't anywhere.  I was looking for him and the boarders I asked had no idea.  So I texted Trainer A and heard the news.  I had been hoping and praying for a seriously blown ligament.  I knew it was bad, like life ending bad, especially with no treatment but maybe I was wrong.  Maybe he would be okay. 

I'd known in my gut that he wouldn't be there when I arrived.  That didn't get me ready for the empty stall.  It also made the fact he had to wait three days worse.  Fractures hurt, even when they're not displaced.  I can't even imagine.

I told the barn owner that I had major, major issues with how that went down.  He needed a vet on Friday, not on Monday.  He lived with a broken leg for three days.  I had to push to get anyone to put ice on the swelling for pity's sake.  She replied that it was a really difficult situation, that they thought it was just a reinjury of his knee.  I can't take that answer.  Fluid on the knee and a limp is one thing.  This horse wouldn't move four steps to get to his water bucket.  I'm familiar with making the nearly impossible choices with horses.  You get it wrong some days and you regret it.  I've done it, it sucks.  The vet comes out for nothing or you think it's nothing and it turns out to be a very big something.  But this wasn't a hard choice.  Non-weight bearing after a bad fall, you call the damn vet.

They didn't.  They chose wrong.  The barn owner was not happy with my reaction.  I suppose anger was not the expected reaction to finding out a horse had passed, especially a horse that I never rode.  I let it go because, honestly, the barn owner was not the one making the call.  I like her quite a bit, she's a very kind person.  But also very inexperienced.

I'm looking for a new barn.  After this display of lack of horsemanship, I don't feel comfortable leaving Theo in their care.  What if they couldn't reach me?  What if I was on a camping trip?  Would they leave him like that for three days?  Theo is not a school horse, I have to assume they would know to call the vet immediately but I'd also assumed they would do that for a horse that was so valuable to their lesson program.  This does not impact my horse or his care in any way but I have lost all trust in the barn's management.


Some things have been boiling under the surface in regards to the barn but this is something that feels like hitting a brick wall.  Like I can't stay at this barn anymore despite the fact Theo has lived in the same field for six years and moving him will be very difficult for him.  Am I overreacting? 

Monday, August 12, 2019

Making lemonade

When life hands you lemons, put them in a bottle of vodka and have a lemon drop martini.

It's been about a week since I asked Theo to really collect and he's a much happier pony.  He's working on his transitions, jumping small jumps, and going out for nice walks when the deer flies allow it.  He's very content with all of this and has been a total cuddlebug.

Post ride and grooming content face

I'm also riding in a hackamore for about half my rides.  It's a great change of pace and making me really focus on what my legs and seat are doing.

Ready to go out and try to outrun the deer flies

My hope is that if we practice doing transitions within gaits with the hackamore, I'll finally figure out just what my seat is supposed to be doing and I'll be able to go from medium to collected correctly.  You know, without the bracing and falling on his shoulders and losing all impulsion.  I'm getting glimpses that I'm figuring it out.  He'll start to lift his shoulders and fill out his neck if I get it right.  The hackamore gives me just about zero finesse with the hand and very little say on what he's doing with the front end so it's all seat and legs.  It's good for me.  Theo seems to appreciate the change of pace.

The biggest update from our week of easy work?  I love love love his new boots from Ready to Ride.  I had to wait a long time for them since they were a pre-order from New Zealand but totally worth it.

Rhinestones!!!

They fit well and are certainly eye catching.  The fuzzy lining was approved by Theo and he didn't try to kick them off even once.  The full size fit him just fine.  They're not velcro, they're the jumper style tab closures so less adjustable.  Theo's on the last hole right now and he's not huge so if your horse has massive canons, they may be too tight.  The color is perfect on him, I'm completely in love.  For the price, I'm not concerned with longevity very much (I think they were $67 for the set).  Theo wears boots for a reason and they'll accumulate strikes quickly.  As a set I got for fun and to make some people twitch?  They are a solid win and I recommend them.

The saddle pad I got to match is nothing to write home about.  Compared to my PS of Sweden collection, it's pretty meh.  I'm concerned about how it will hold up in the wash and the embroidery of the logo is huge.  No fancy wicking materials going on here, just a plain thin pad.  The straps going to the D rings is a nice touch but the velcro was wide and getting it through the rings the first time was a total pain.  It goes with the boots and it was cheap, I'll use it up.  Or I'll donate it to the school, the kids will love it.

Vet appointment is Wednesday afternoon.  I think Theo will be sticking with this plan of long low work and little jumps in the hackamore until I hear just what is up with him.  He's happy with it, we're maintaining fitness, and it gets me my pony fix.  Everyone wins.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

The judge conundrum

It's been interesting getting back out there and seriously showing after a couple years off.  The pony is radically different and so am I.  Now I can look back and see where I was getting dinged at First and how the judges were trying to get me back on track.  I read the comments with my more educated eyes and see what they were trying to get us to do.  Theo was not in any way submissive to my aids, I get that now.

Not good

At the same time, I think my horse is very polarizing.  Judges see him very differently even when the video shows a very similar test.  One judge will underline harmony with a smiley face, another will say that we're not ready for the level due to our lack of connection.  It feels like a crap shoot right now.  My horse is becoming more confident and reliable, but my scores are still all over the place.

Seriously, look at this hot mess, but you can see the exact point in the summer of 2018 when we got a clue at First

I've been talking to trainers in my region who know these judges and have shown under them for years and they agree with me, my scores will remain scattered.  Some of them love Theo, some of them hate him, and it's not going to stop.  He's not a purpose bred warmblood that was trained from day one to prance in the sandbox.  He's not flashy or flouncey bouncey.  He will always look different.  Not in a bad way, but he moves different and his outline is different.  Trainer Z calls him her bouncy ball. Verne Batchelder called him a sports car based on his very responsive steering and gait changes (not for his speed, believe me).

Walk - canter - walks with changes of lead every couple strides with my sports car

An S judge that is infamously tough in my area likes Theo because he's willing and soft in the ring.  I show people the scores he got from her and they're surprised.  She's usually considered stingy with the points but I got a 68%.  She likes that he's happy to do the job with his tail swinging like a metronome.  Another S judge nailed me hard for my lack of accuracy in my figures, but complimented Theo's way of going and gave him nice scores.  The message I got from her was that I needed to be a more accurate rider to show off my nice horse.  Fair.  I was informed by a rider that this particular judge will destroy a ride that's behind the vertical so she's not popular, but it wasn't a surprise she liked Theo.  Theo is never behind the vertical and keeps his poll up well.  The judges that like Theo note his relaxed, happy manner, our harmony, and his prompt responses.  Several officials have said that he looks like a horse they would actually want to ride and I consider that the highest compliment.

Other judges want more flexion, more suspension, more power.  They want big, elastic movement with long, flexible necks.  They want warmbloods.  Well, Theo is many things but none of them include being a warmblood even if it says American Warmblood on his paperwork.  His gaits will never be huge and our extensions will always be 'take the 6 and be done' (though he did sneak in an 8 for his canter lengthen in our last freestyle so it's in there).  He's learning to not get in front of my hand when under pressure but he will always be a horse that's more comfortable just in front of the vertical.  His short, heavy neck makes that flexion more challenging and, lets face it, submission is not Theo's favorite word.

Exhibit A:  Getting in front of my hand as he comes out of the 10m circle and I push him forward

I thought I was having sour grapes again but no.  The professional consensus is that I wasn't going to get a better score from that judge that weekend even if we rocked it.  We weren't where she thought we should be and frankly, we might never be.  Save the effort for another day, another ring, another judge.  She's not a bad judge, most riders really like her and she's usually generous with the points, but Theo is not her cup of tea.  We're going to have an uphill battle to impress her any time we go in the ring.  I was last and second to last in her ring at two different levels, the message was loud and clear.

Theo still needs more flexion.  Yes, I acknowledge that.  I will always need to work on that.  That and ground cover.  He will always be the horse where I have to nail the mechanical movements to boost our scores that are more gait based.  There's a reason I practice my centerline to halt so much.  I've started getting 8's on that movement!

I need to fix my position issues.  I've come a long way, but I'm not going to make Third with my hands in my lap and my shoulders tending to get in front of my hips. 

But we'll get there

It's a subjective sport.  And there's a reason some people won't ride in front of some judges.  If you've got a certain type of horse, you don't want to ride in front of someone that will give you lousy scores for things you can't change.  The judge that loves Theo and put a smiley face on his test?  Trainer Z avoids like the plague with her stallion that can get anxious in the show rin.  It's the nature of the sport.

The good news is that I have numbers and can line them all up so I don't get overly discouraged by a bad score.  Several bad scores?  Then I've got a problem, but blips on the radar aren't a call for a course correction.  It's one person's opinion of one ride on one day.  The judge marks what they see with no context, which is the point.  The rider presents their horse to the best of their ability on the day, which is the point.  We can't please everyone with every ride.

He does get all the cute points and that wagging tail of his is kind of his signature

But I can avoid situations that aren't predisposed to success.  I will be looking for that specific judge's name in the future.  And avoiding it.